Who Are This Guy’s Readers

The President's Daughter (Donovan Creed)The President’s Daughter by John Locke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hitman, Donovan Creed, finds the billion dollars in his Swiss bank account missing, and his wife tries to kill him. To add insult to injury, a mobster offers him $1500 to kill a dog that bit him. Eventually, the president’s chief of staff offers him eight million to kidnap president’s daughter. Well, a guy has to make a living, so he takes the job, only to discover that this has been in works for years, and a veritable troop of look-alikes and body doubles are on the government’s payroll. Creed’s overly complex plan evaporates when the president’s daughter voluntarily lets herself be kidnapped.

Okay, it’s a silly story. Now, I’m not one to criticize a silly story. I may have been guilty of writing one or two myself. The President’s Daughter, however, is a bit much. Creed and his partner, Callie, have sex with and kill everyone they meet. The body count is astronomical, and I only recall disposing of two bodies, yet no one seems too concerned to arrest them. The wackiness aside, this book has some issues that don’t appeal to me. It bounces back and forth from past tense to present tense, and it shifts viewpoints from first person narration by the main character to third person narration by unimportant characters. It has its bright moments and a few flashes of humor. Mr. Locke is not shy about claiming some pretty impressive credentials, including million-seller status. This is apparently true. That worries me about the nature of the reading public, but I can’t fault his success.

For $.99 I was willing to give it a try. It’s now $2.99, but if you feel inclined, here’s the link:

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A Brief History of TimeA Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reread “A Brief History of Time” every few years thinking that, if I read it enough, I’ll understand it. Originally published in 1988, this 2017 edition is wonderfully updated by Stephen Hawking himself, who is the longest surviving victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since the original publication, Hawking and others have determined that the prospect of a big crunch at the end of the universe is highly unlikely. That revelation, and others, makes it fascinating to explore the progress that has been made in cosmology and quantum physics in twenty years. Evaporating black holes, gravity waves, the multiverse, and the uncertainty principle; these mind-bending concepts, and many more, are laid bare by Hawking’s straightforward explanations. Straightforward? Well, all things are relative, including time and gravity. Hawking does speak plainly and with humor, but my eyes glaze and my brain hurts every time he says “…the sum over all possible histories.” Nevertheless, this is a book to read and reread by all thinking persons.

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Artifact Chapter 1

Proto cover3


Scott Skipper

Copyright 2017

All rights reserved

Chapter 1

Probably a real estate agent, she thought as Vicki peeked at the strange car in the driveway and the strange woman exiting the driver’s seat. The woman carried a brown paper package that was considerably tattered. Vicki went to the door and waited for the doorbell. She swung the door inward and studied, through the screen, the black-haired, blue-eyed woman who wasn’t smiling.

“Mrs. Vicki Rice?” she asked with a trace of British accent.

“Yes,” Vicki replied tentatively.

“My name is Martine Durand. I have something for you from your husband.”

“Are you a process server?”

“No, nothing like that. This is some kind of message. It’s not my business, but I think he may be in some sort of trouble.”

“Oh, God. What are you saying?”

“I met him only briefly—in México. He gave me this and asked me to mail it. I sensed that it was too important to trust to the mail.”

Vicki was stunned. “Please come in and explain all this.”

The stranger smiled for the first time. She had a crooked, if engaging smile that Vicki thought would appeal to Robert. “Thank you. I won’t take much of your time.”

“Please sit here. May I offer you something?”

“Just some water would be lovely.”

Vicki quickly returned from the kitchen with a tumbler of ice water and iced tea for herself. “So, you met Robert in México, and he gave you that?” She gestured at the battered package. It was about the size of half a ream of paper and was tied with sisal twine.

“Oh, yes, here.” Martine gave it to her. “It was at the airport at Cancún. I had just arrived on holiday and somehow got into the departure lanes while looking for a taxi. Robert was dropping off his friend. I must have looked hopelessly confused, so he offered me a lift to the hotel.”

“Sounds like him.”

“Yes, well, he was quite gallant about it. When we got to the hotel, an enormous tour bus had just arrived, full of Japanese tourists. There were so many, and they were so rude, that there was literally no room to stand in the reception. To repay Robert for his kindness, I offered to buy him a drink, since I had to wait to check in anyway.”

“He wouldn’t turn that down.”

“No, he didn’t. Well, you know, we just had a casual conversation about what we were doing there. I was meeting a girlfriend for two weeks at the beach, and he said he had just spent a week in the jungle with the friend who he dropped at the airport.”

“That would be Carl.”

“That’s right. So, a week in the jungle sounded pretty adventurous to me. I wanted to know more about it. That’s when he got sort of mysterious—said he had something to do now that his friend had left. I didn’t press it.”

Vicki sipped her tea while trying to read the truth in what this woman was saying. “He said he had to do something that Carl couldn’t see?”

“Like I said, I didn’t press it. Here was someone I just met telling me about something that sounded clandestine. At that point, I thought I might not want to know.”

“So, what happened next?”

“That was it. We had a nice conversation over another drink. He tried to pick up the tab, but I insisted, then I went to check in, and he disappeared into the jungle.”

“He didn’t try to hit on you?”

“No, he was a perfect gentleman.”

“Maybe you’ve got the wrong Robert Rice.”

Martine smiled her one-sided smile.

“When did you get this?” Vicki raised the still sealed package.

“Hmm, that was a couple of days before I was due to go home. My girlfriend had already left, but I had some more time to work on a tan—I burn easily. Anyway, Robert showed up at the hotel and rang my room. He invited me to dinner at a place called the Sunset Bar. I was happy to accept. The place was lovely—”

“I know it.”

“Oh, well, then you know how lovely it is. We had a great time. He talked me into trying conch ceviche—good but a bit rubbery. Then he pulls this already ratty package from a backpack he was carrying and asks if I would mind mailing it when I got back to the states. When I saw the addressee, it was the first time I knew he was married.”

“In your defense, we’re separated.”

“Yes, he told me. Then he told me a very strange story.”

“And what was that?”

“I don’t think that I am the one you should hear it from. I believe it’s all in there.” Martine pointed at the parcel she had brought.

Vicki felt a prick of irritation with this woman who had seemingly dropped out of the sky and stirred memories she was trying to stifle. “I suppose you two were…”

“Intimate? No, not at all. Just one chaste kiss goodbye when he dropped me at the airport.”

“You said you had a couple more days before you had to go to the airport.”

“Yes, I did spend more time with him. Like the complete twit that I am, I thought all there was to do was lay on the sand and take windsurfing lessons. Sure, I’d heard of Chichen Itzá, but I had no idea what it was, and it seemed a bother to spend most of the day on a bus to go see it. Robert offered to give me tours of some places he said were better. He showed me two beautiful spots called—”

“Tulum and Cobá,” Vicki interrupted.

“Why, yes. He took you there as well then.”

“Oh, yes. Our special places.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t have known.”

“No, and it’s all right. I’m moving on.”

“I see. Well, when Robert wasn’t in his tour guide mode, I thought he seemed sad. Later I thought that he was missing you.”

“I doubt that.”

“Still, it concerned me. Little things he said gave me to think he needed looking after.”

“What do you mean?”

“He sounded sort of hopeless. Frankly, I wondered why he wasn’t making, you know, suggestions.”

“Yeah, that’s not like him.”

“Then he said something that convinced me I should deliver his parcel, what I figure is a very long letter, to you in person.”

“What did he say?”

“He said in it was the key to your future wellbeing.”

That struck Vicki mute. She fondled the string binding the sheets and felt tempted to open it, but she couldn’t read it in front of this woman. “Is that all he said?”

“Yes, but his demeanor made me think that after you read it, you will have to make a trip to México.”

“I doubt that, but thank you for going out of your way to bring this to me.”

“It was no bother. I hope things work out for you, and that Robert is all right.”

“Do you mind leaving a number where I can reach you in case I have questions?”

“I’d really rather not.”

Martine showed herself to the door as Vicki slid the twine from the brown paper package.

Dear Vicki,

By the time you read this…

It was dark when she finished the handwritten missive. She was trembling slightly, and she knew that she was going to have to go to México to recover the body of her estranged husband, and perhaps something else.


A Soul BurnedA Soul Burned by RJ Curtis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

James was a bomber pilot with twenty-plus missions over Germany. He was good at his job and was picked to lead the raid on Dresden in February, 1945. As he circled the target, pinpointing the places undamaged so other bombers could drop their loads wherever there were no flames. At the end of the mission, James makes it home safely, but not undamaged. Although due some leave, he is tasked with one more mission—a milk run over Denmark in the daylight—one more mission and then free time to spend with Colleen. But the unthinkable happens.

The firebombing of Dresden was one of the most controversial raids perpetrated by the Allies during World War II. The wanton barbarism of annihilating an ancient city with no strategic value has been bemoaned ever since that day in 1945 when it was reduced to ashes. RJ Curtis has done a magnificent job of telling the story through the eyes of a participant. The emotional impact on the character, James, is told with great skill, and the subsequent tragedy that befell him is also related masterfully. There is additionally the viewpoint of young boy who survived the firestorm, and in a strange twist of fate, has an impact on James life years later. A Soul Burned is a fine piece of historical fiction.
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Great Start Troubled Ending

The AsteriskThe Asterisk by Mark Desmond

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two MIT nerds, while being handled—that is coerced—by the CIA develop software that scans images of Earth, made by the Kepler Deep Space Telescope, for deposits of precious metals. They are unable to debug the software and are frustrated for a couple of years. Then Jack Drago finds a debugging algorithm that was developed at Harvard. It solves the problem and he is able to print a plot of an area in the Bolivian Alto Plano showing deposits of gold, silver, uranium, and something else. The CIA immediately pulls the plug on their operation. Jack is warned of his eminent arrest by girlfriend Hanna, who is head of campus security. Jack and his cohort, Frannie, AKA Francis, are determined to go to Bolivia to discover what this anomaly might be, and to prevent the CIA from seizing it.

That’s where this story unravels. The artifact is of extraterrestrial origin, and in fact the US military already has one that was discovered in Egypt during the First World War. They don’t know what it is or what to do with it. The reader never discovers why it’s a threat to mankind. However, the indigenous Bolivians know of it and revere it as something to be protected. The thing is just a little too bizarre and inexplicable be taken seriously. When the action starts, the story devolves into poor dialogue and improbable events by characters who aren’t very believable. I realize there is a reason we call this fiction, but one needs a shred of plausibility. It is as if this book were written by two people. The first half is concise and logical with good prose solid technology. Then something happens. This reader was severely let down by the second half of the book. And the ending? Well, I don’t know what the ending was, but it wasn’t very satisfying.

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The Cuban Affair

The Cuban AffairThe Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Afghanistan veteran and charter boat captain based in Key West is approached by a group of Cuban Americans with a proposition. The Cuban Thaw allows American tourists to visit the Communist island in groups as long as they adhere to State Department guidelines and are under the scrutiny of Cuban minders. The Cuban Americans want Mac to join a tour group from Yale and go to Cuba with a stunningly beautiful Cubana, Sara. The plan is for Mac and Sara to slip away from the group and recover sixty-three million dollars that was hidden in a cave at the time of Castro’s revolution. Entering Mac’s boat in a fishing tournament in the waters made famous by Hemingway provides the means for them to escape with the loot. If he succeeds, Mac’s share will be three million. Unfortunately just about everything they told him is a lie.

Nelson DeMille’s main characters are unfailingly witty, tough, profane, and irreverent. That’s Mac. One suspects they are an extension of DeMille. At least I hope so. This first person narrative is classic DeMille with plenty of sarcasm and biting social commentary. It is, however, a little slower than this writer’s other works. The escape scene is a real nail-biter, but in getting there, DeMille seems a little off his game. Now, I maintain that there is no such thing as bad Nelson DeMille, but I would not call this the apex his bibliography. The Cuban Affair is a good read. Parts of it are a great read.

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Something Different Very Different

The Geyser Girl of Yellowstone ParkThe Geyser Girl of Yellowstone Park by Myrtle Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yellowstone Park is a magical place, more magical than we thought. When a young girl appears among the geysers, alone and helpless, she is immediately adopted by a bison cow and Old Faithful, and they name Flower of the Steam Basin. Trust me. This is where you must suspend incredulity. In the microcosm of the park, all things are personified. All things possess great wisdom and speak in parables teaching the girl morality and spirituality. She communes with all the spirits of the wilderness, delights in running with the herds of bison, and cavorting in the eruptions of the geysers. She lives in the chasm of Old Faithful where the spirit of the geyser teaches her about all things, including the people who visit daily. When the rumor of a girl dancing aloft in the hot mineral spray begins to circulate, there comes trouble to paradise.

I told you that you had to suspend incredulity. You also have to be a little patient. The beginning of this book is dedicated to animism, something akin to native spirituality. It consists mainly of the above-mentioned parables, and is written in a flowery prose that is almost Biblical in its near poetic construction. The characters speak in multi-paragraph monologues. Some readers will revel in the joy of language, others less so, but by and by, human beings sneak into the story. That’s when the trouble starts. This book was departure for me. I generally go for something earthier, but I enjoyed The Geyser Girl of Yellowstone Park, and I recommend it for those who aren’t discouraged by what I said in the first paragraph of this review. One could see Geyser Girl being produced by Walt Disney, although as it is written, it is not a children’s story.

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